Archive for the ‘Alex Beecroft’ Category

The Friday Brit clinic is back.  If you have any questions about life in this chilly, overcast island, feel free to ask them in the comments.  We will do our best to answer.

Appropriate picture of the day – Prime Minister’s Question time in the House of Commons 🙂


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The English Imagination

This is by way of a musing on Peter Ackroyd’s book Albion: The Origins of the English imagination.

In which Peter Ackroyd attempts to discover whether there is a national character when it comes to the imagination of the inhabitants of the British Isles, and if so, what it is.

I’m not sure why he calls it ‘the English imagination’ rather than ‘the British imagination’. The second would seem more appropriate, particularly as he claims that the landscape of Britain influences its inhabitants, so that our many waves of immigrants and invaders are gradually assimilated to a similar way of thinking in the same way that they gradually get used to the climate.

One of the many separate strands that Ackroyd thinks he sees in the long history of British thought is a refusal to systematize. We reject, he says, the large structures of logic built on small initial premises, and instead rely on accumulating data, throwing it together in an intellectual jumble sale. Appropriately enough that is exactly what his book is like. It claims to identify some main strands of thought, gives some examples of each, and leaves you to draw your own conclusions.

Though I am English myself, I would have preferred something a little more reasoned out, possibly with an argument and a conclusion. But having said that, a lot of his points are provocative, or at least evocative, and set me thinking.

I don’t think anyone could argue against the idea that our imaginations are full of the weather, for example. Particularly rain, and light, and the movement of clouds across the hills. Nor could anyone seriously argue that we weren’t moved by trees. Look at Tolkien! Look at the design of our cathedrals, or our Christmas carols or tradition of wassailing the orchards.

Other interesting threads in the weave include the typical British embarrassment or reticence, where strong emotions are undercut and the poet/novelist employs a sleight of hand to make himself look less important than he may actually believe he is.

A love of interlace and miniatures, leading to a concentration on surface decoration rather than an interest in depth. I can certainly agree with that in art, but I don’t know how it can coexist with the love of portraiture – the concentration on characterization in literature which he also claims.

What else was there? Oh, interestingly, though I should hardly have thought it was more typical to Britain than to everywhere, there’s a chapter on women’s voices, piety, gossip, and a deep anger at being silenced and dispossessed in every other realm.

The aforementioned lack of system and logic, with an associated attachment to the practical and the useful.

A love of violence, violent effects, grotesquery and bawdy.

A tendency to be fertilized by seeds taken from the continent and then to recast the resulting flowers in our own slightly idiosyncratic mold.

A love of gardens as refuges.

I can’t really argue that any of these things are absent from my conception of Britishness. What I don’t know, of course, is how far any of these things are unique to the Brits. None of them, I would have thought. But perhaps the mixture is characteristic?

However it is, I can recommend the book. I saw many things in it which I recognise as my own interests/method/voice, and many other things I didn’t recognise at all. So the experience was one of mingled self discovery and amused bafflement, both of which were great fun!

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I’ve been reading a book called ‘Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination’, by Peter Ackroyd, in which he examines popular thought and literature in Britain since the Saxons in order to identify common threads. That’s a book which deserves a post of its own, but more on that later. For now, I thought it was interesting that one of the things he said the British were obsessed with was the past.

My father, among other people, has always maintained that the British are obsessed with our past because it was more glorious than our present. He thinks it’s a little pathetic of us, to be frank. So I was amused to have it pointed out to me that whenever you look at British culture, we have always been obsessed with the past.

The first piece of fiction written in English, in fact; the epic poem Beowulf, written down some time in the 8th century, but clearly composed earlier, is set in a past which had already become legendary. The first piece of fiction in English is a historical, in fact 🙂 As a historical novelist, this warms my heart.

However, in a blinding change of tactic, I’m going to use this fact as an excuse to post some pictures of what I did at the weekend. I’m a member of the Saxon re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum who attempt to recreate the society in which Beowulf was first performed.

One of the enormous things we have done over the past ten years has been to buy some pine-infested land in Kent, clear it of the trees and build an Anglo-Saxon longhall on it. This has been done with nothing more than the volunteer, amateur work of the members of our society, who’ve turned their hands to tree clearing, landscaping, post hole digging, carpentry, wattle and daub, lime plastering and roofing with hand cut oak shingles. After about 10 years work, the longhall is almost finished and it looks like this:

At the weekend we were doing various jobs such as fitting the shutters to the windows and putting on the final, blinding white, finishing coat of lime plaster. (Not quite blinding yet because it hasn’t had time to dry yet.)

Inside we’ve begun to furnish it with necessary articles such as lamps:

Meanwhile, outside, we’ve brought our society’s longships into the area because it’s cheaper to dry-dock them here than it is to pay mooring fees. I spent most of my time there taking down and coiling the running and standing rigging, and spreading out the sails to dry before rolling them back up again and lashing them down under a tarpaulin to stay dry.

Oh, there’s also a hive in the corner there – we had heard there was a swarm in the area, so we were trying to catch it. We’ll transfer it to a more appropriate skep if we get it 🙂 And speaking of wildlife, we’re lucky to have managed to buy this land in the centre of a wildlife preserve, full of the kind of animals with which the Saxons would have been very familiar:

(There are wolves too, but I didn’t get a picture of them). Altogether, I like to think it’s a modern triumph of the antiquarian spirit, such as would do both Peter Ackroyd and the Beowulf poet proud 🙂

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For the first time in what seems like several centuries, Andrew and I went out in the evening on Saturday, leaving the kids at home with a babysitter. We went to Ely Cathedral, where the Mediaeval Baebes were doing a concert.

The Mediaeval Baebes are sort of the Spice Girls of early medieval music. I thought there was a slight ‘re-enactment fayre’ fakery about them until they began to sing, at which point I forgave them for unashamedly pandering to the ‘I could have been your white knight and carried you away’ dreams of the predominantly older men in the audience 🙂

But boy can they sing! The music is ancient, but given new and vibrant adaptation, and one of the band would explain the story of each piece before they sang it – so each piece was like a glimpse into the strange world of the past as well as being gorgeous to hear. Being medieval, there was much warning of the transience of beauty, the immanence of death, the tragedy of existence etc, but also in continual counterpoint a celebration of beauty and fun and things that made life worth living.

One of the members of the band – I’m not a sufficient fan to know which one – had recently had a baby and had brought it along, where it was wonderfully silent except to gurgle endearingly at the end of a lullaby 🙂

But the concert was held in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral, and the band played on a dais at the altar end of the room, looked down on by a statue of Mary:

They seemed as hyped by the significance of this as I was – as an awful lot of their repertoire consists of songs to Mary or about Mary and Jesus. Towards the end of the evening they sang a lullaby which was clearly Biblical fanfic, in which a woman says goodbye to her infant son, knowing that Herod has sent out the order to have all male children killed. In that setting, with that music, it almost brought me to tears.

Thankfully they also sang some cheerful and amusing stuff – I particularly liked the medieval bawdy song about the man who had drunk too much to get it up; which they accompanied with appropriate arm gestures 😀

It was very interesting to be in a context and listening to music which was so very much a part of a female tradition. I found it something of an eye-opener. I’ve never had much time for Mary in the past, but perhaps now I will 🙂

Photography was forbidden during the concert but here are the band signing stuff afterwards:

I found the lullaby, I think!  So here’s a sample of their music:

The Coventry Carol

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I’m a relatively new writer who seems determined not to settle down to a ‘brand’. My first book came out on the first of January this year (2008). ‘Captain’s Surrender’ is a gay historical romance. Set in 1779, just before the end of the War of Independence, it’s a sea-faring adventure in the tradition of Patrick O’Brian. If PoB had given greater prominence to his gay characters, that is.

Captain's Surrender

Unlike many more professional writers, it never occurred to me to find out what the market was like; what was hot, what was not. If I had, I might have been discouraged by the fact that there seemed to be fifty contemporary novels and ten paranormals for every historical. This was an instance in which my own lack of savvy came to my rescue, because I just wrote what I wanted to read.

I’ve been in love with the 18th Century Royal Navy since watching ‘Master and Commander’. I wanted all that military glamor, all the excitement of battles, storms, shipwrecks, combat and life-or-death peril, combined with a strong focus on characterization, star-crossed, forbidden romance, true love conquering all, and a happy ending. In short, I wanted a book that would satisfy both the masculine and the feminine side of myself. I have to say that – for me at least – I managed to succeed in that.

My other published novel is called ‘The Witch’s Boy’, and is as different as can be from ‘Captain’s Surrender’. The Witch’s Boy is a pseudo-early-Norman fantasy, in which a man’s attempt to rise above his abusive childhood is complicated by the fact that both he and his abuser are powerful sorcerers, and the abuser wants him back. I published this one myself through Lulu because it flies in the face of various publishing conventions. For example, one of my protagonists is an 11 year old boy, (who does not grow up to save the world!) yet the novel is very definitely adult. Gruesome at times, even 😉

But I suppose that at present m/m Age of Sail is what I’m mostly associated with, and that’s unlikely to change when my next two projects come out. I also have:

an Age of Sail short story called ‘90% Proof’ coming out soon in an anthology (called ‘Inherently Sexual’) from Freya’s Bower. That’s been slightly delayed due to the editor not being very well.

Inherently Sexual

And I’m just in the process of negotiating and signing the contract on a second Age of Sail novel, under a working title of ‘False Colors’. That’s to be published by Perseus Books, and has a theme of how society’s condemnation of same sex love harms not only GBLT people but society itself. Which sounds very pretentious, I know, but which also involves battles with pirates, the white slave trade, cannibals, threesomes, cruel fathers, a famous castrato, and giant centipedes. So it can’t be all bad.

I run the ‘In Their Own Words‘ blog, which is a promotional resource for GBLT novels, where authors can put up interviews with their own characters. I’m also a moderator and contributor to The Macaronis blog, which is dedicated to gay historic romance. I run the Gay and Lesbian Excerpts blog on both WP and Myspace, occasionally review on ‘Speak Its Name‘ and I blather on incessantly about anything that takes my fancy on my own blog: HMS Gruntleship.

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Your ITIN and you

Boggle as the intrepid author fights her way through the swamps of legalese!Gasp as she overcomes the clinging forests of red tape!Tremble as she asks the men with machine guns to stand aside and let her pass!

Well, OK, it probably isn’t possible to make a post about UK and USA tax arrangements interesting.Though men with machine guns really were involved, that was probably the least fraught thing about it.Instead I’ll try for clarity and usefulness.

If you’re a British author, being paid by an American publisher, the fact that you may get 30% more royalties if you read to the end will just have to be compensation for the dull subject 🙂

The Tax Treaty

American publishers have to pay American taxes to the IRS.If you are receiving royalties from an American firm, then the IRS are legally obliged to take 30% of your royalties in tax.You then get what remains.

However, the British tax man is legally obliged to tax you, as a British resident, on your income.So you will end up paying tax on the royalties which have already been taxed.You will end up being taxed twice on the same earnings.

This is so obviously unfair that everyone was agreed that something should be done about it.As a result the USA and the UK signed a tax treaty which means that UK residents only get taxed by the UK.

This is good news.However, this doesn’t all happen automatically.It’s up to you, the writer, to prove to the IRS that you (a) are a foreign national and therefore ought not to have to pay American tax and that (b) you are in fact getting paid by an American firm and not merely wasting their time.

The ITIN Number

In order to establish that you are receiving money which you will not be taxed for, you need to get yourself an ITIN number.This tells the IRS who you are, and tells them you are exempt from paying them tax.

If you do not get an ITIN number, your publisher will be legally obliged to give 30% of your royalties to the IRS.They are probably already doing this without letting you know about it.Not – I hasten to add – out of any malice, but just because unless you stand up and say ‘hey, I don’t pay tax in the USA and here’s my ITIN to prove it,’ they have no other option.

How Do I Get an ITIN Number?

Here is my recommended method.I have done this myself and found it surprisingly simple and effective.

First of all you get a copy of the form here: FW7

You fill this in to the best of your ability.(Foreign Tax number = National Insurance number).

What the IRS need is (a) Proof you are British.

(b) Proof you need an ITIN because you are being paid by an American company.

The only single document they will accept for (a) is your passport.

For (b) they will accept your contract as long as it mentions the fact that you are going to be paid royalties.

Now take your filled in FW7, your passport and your contract to the American Embassy in London:


And tell them that you want the IRS office.You will be passed through the queue at the gates faster than all the other people (who are waiting for Visas).You will have to go through a paranoid security check that even airports would think is a bit OTT, leaving all your electronics, including your watches and even your belts at the door.Then, holding on to your trousers, you can ask the machine-gun armed policemen at the checkpoint which way to go and you will be directed to the IRS office.

I arrived at about 2pm and the whole queuing and strip search business (I’m joking about the strip search btw!) only took about 15 minutes, after which I was the only person in the IRS office, and seen to immediately.

The IRS man filled in the bits of the form I could not manage (name and subsection of the tax treaty under which I was exempt), took my passport away for just long enough to photocopy it, kept the copy, and kept the printouts of my contract, handed me back my passport, and that was that.I still have to wait 120 days before I get an ITIN, which will be sent to my house, but at least I have the assurance that the form got past the IRS man, so it must at least be properly filled in.


(a) But what if I live a long way from London?

You are kind of stuffed.You can post your FW7, passport and contract to the IRS office in the Embassy (address above).If you want to risk sending your passport through the post, of course.

(a.i) can’t I send them a copy of my passport?

Not really.They will not accept a copy unless it is taken by an authorised notary or Acceptance Agent.Googling reveals two Acceptance Agents in the entire country and they are both in London.

Also, I feel I ought to mention that Acceptance Agents will charge you £450 for the privilege, *and* the IRS man was not aware that there were any authorised Acceptance Agents in the country, so the ones on Google may be dodgy.

Frankly, if you’re posting your passport to an Acceptance Agent to be officially copied, you might as well post it to the IRS office.If you don’t want to post it, you’re stuck with travelling to London yourself.

(b) What if I don’t have a passport?

The only single document they will accept for proof of identity is your passport.There is a list of other documents they may take instead in the instructions of the FW7.One of them, however *must* contain photo-ID.If you have no passport and no photo-driver’s licence, you are stuffed.

If you have a photo-driver’s licence and your birth certificate you may be OK with that, but again they must be the original documents.If you don’t want to post them and risk losing them, and/or them not being enough proof of identity anyway, you will have to take them to London yourself.

That stinks!

I know.But on the other hand you only need to get an ITIN once.After that you will have the same number throughout your writing career, and it will be saving you 30% of your royalties all the way.It has to be worth the expense of travelling to London for a day, or even overnight.It has to be less than paying an Acceptance Agent £450 for the privilege.And you can buy ‘I love London’ T-shirts on the way home 😉

Hurray!I have my ITIN Number!It’s all over!

Well, almost but not quite!All your ITIN number does is prove you are not subject to US tax.If you want your publisher to be aware of this fact, you must then send your publisher a FW8BEN to inform them.Only after you’ve done that will the publisher be able to stop taking tax off the money that you’re going to be taxed on at home.

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Just a quick post to say that although not much appears to be happening, we’re busy behind the scenes trying to sort out rules and posting guidelines.

One of the things I most want to see on here is a weekly brit-picking clinic, where anyone can ask questions about any aspects of British life they need to know about, and they will get answers from us all.  I’m thinking Fridays?  What do you think?

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